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Toyota’s greenwashing conceals worsening fleet MPG, shows why they oppose MPG standards

Toyota, GM, and FCA have been getting a lot of flack the last couple days, in response to their move to join the EPA in opposing better MPG standards against the interests of consumers and the environment.

Toyota responded to this public outcry by claiming that it wants “continuous, year-over-year improvements in fuel economy,” but there’s one problem with that: Their fleet average MPG is actually getting worse over time, unlike every other automaker.

The discrepancy between Toyota’s PR comments and reality was pointed out by Dave Cooke, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The UCS has produced many quality reports about electric vehicles over the years.  These include reports that show EVs are cleaner to charge, that EVs are cheaper to fuel all across the US, and that fossil fuels have many hidden costs not accounted for in tailpipe emissions.

Toyota shows worst progress in fleet MPG

The UCS analyst noticed that in the latest available government data, the EPA Automotive Trends Report, all manufacturers have shown improvement in recent years… except Toyota:

If Toyota had started this period at the top of the heap, a small drop in ranking might be forgivable. But that didn’t happen. Toyota is in fact quite low in terms of relative efficiency, and is getting worse rather than better.  Every automaker had improving fuel efficiency other than Toyota:

The decrease is minor, but it’s there. When taken relative to the large improvements other automakers have shown, Toyota stands out with poor performance, the worst of the bunch.

Toyota’s greenwashing exposed

Toyota has been successful in their greenwashing efforts over the last few decades, becoming known as the king of fuel-efficient hybrids due to brisk Prius sales. Notably, Toyota has been popular in California, and has focused a lot on California sales, due to state incentives that allowed hybrids to drive in carpool lanes and that offered cash incentives for buying plug-in hybrid vehicles like the Prius Prime.

Due to this, many readers were surprised at Toyota’s move to side with Mr. Trump against California and President Barack Obama’s previous unified, national fuel economy standard.

But it’s clear from these numbers that their fleet is languishing with a rather poor and worsening Toyota fleet MPG overall. Perhaps that’s why they joined litigation seeking to remove the unified national fuel economy standards agreed upon under President Obama, and which are still being defended by California and 22 other states.

Toyota’s attempt at damage control is lacking

We emailed Toyota about their participation in this litigation and received this boilerplate PR statement in response:
Toyota remains committed to continuous, year-over-year improvements in fuel economy standards that deliver meaningful climate benefits, promote advanced technologies, and meet the needs of customers like you. Joining this litigation does not mean we are taking any sides politically. Rather, this is a necessary step to ensure we have a voice in the debate over a complex set of legal and regulatory issues that have significant long-term implications for our industry, our business, and affordability for our customers.
We re [sic] confident we can find a path that brings significant environmental benefits if we work together to develop vehicles and regulations that meet the needs and value proposition of the customer. Thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback. Your email has been documented at our National Headquarters.

When we replied, asking for clarification as to why Toyota joined litigation on the side that is asking for lower standards rather than higher ones, Toyota immediately responded with… exactly the same boilerplate. It turns out they send an auto-response.

Notably, this statement does not mention that Toyota did have a seat at the table in previous negotiations with the federal government, and that the national standard they already agreed to was torpedoed by the current EPA.

This is another discrepancy between their PR comments and reality. If Toyota really wants a national standard, they should join California, who are currently suing to defend the previously agreed-upon national standard. Or they should join BMW, Ford, Honda, and VW, all of whom have agreed to stick with the previous standard despite the EPA’s arbitrary and capricious meddling.

A “leader” in “electrified” vehicles?

Toyota also posted a longer statement on their website. This statement touts their leadership in “electrified” vehicle sales. Of note, the hybrid Prius, despite qualifying to Toyota as an “electrified” vehicle, still derives exactly 100% of its energy from burning gasoline and 0% from any other fuel source, as it cannot be plugged in.

Toyota does currently sell one plug-in hybrid: the Prius Prime, which we were not impressed by. This car is certainly not a leader in EVs, with about 1/8th as many sales as the Tesla Model 3 in the US so far this year.

They also sell the Mirai, which is a fuel cell electric vehicle, but only available in two states on a lease program intended to obscure the high cost of its hydrogen fuel. This tells us that the Mirai is only intended as a “compliance car.”

They have other models on the horizon, one of which is a plug-in hybrid RAV4 — but Toyota already sold an electric RAV4 over 20 years ago, so this is quite a step backwards.

None of this is much of a surprise for us, as Toyota has spent years actively advertising against electric cars. We’ve written about how their ads are not only deceptive, but also push science illiteracy.

Other companies show progress on MPG, but still oppose better standards

It should be noted that other companies did all show progress over the period covered by the EPA report, which shows that the previous fuel economy standards were working. Companies were on track to meet the standards ahead of schedule, and were doing so with lower compliance costs than they had projected.

But many of those companies have joined Toyota in working to make cars less fuel efficient. Led by industry trade group Global Automakers, these other companies joined in litigation opposing the unified, national standard put in place under Obama.

Global Automakers’ membership also includes Aston Martin, Cruise (subsidiary of GM), Ferrari, Hyundai, Honda, Isuzu, KIA, Maserati (subsidiary of FCA), McLaren, Nissan, Groupe PSA (Peugeot), Subaru, and Suzuki.

Honda released a statement that they do not support this particular litigation, and plan to remain in their agreement with California to stick with higher fuel economy standards.

But by remaining part of this trade group, and by continuing to provide membership fees, all of these companies provide material support to the organization bringing this lawsuit to reduce fuel economy, which the EPA’s own analysis shows will be harmful both to the health and pocketbooks of Americans.

What do you think of Toyota’s actions this week — or the actions of other automakers on the list above?  Do you want more or less fuel efficient vehicles?  Let us know in the comments.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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